Joint U.S.-Japan project stimulates growth of optoelectronic technologies

The advancement of computer technology by integrating optical, optoelectronic, and electronic components is the objective of the U.S.-Japan Joint Optoelectronic Project (JOP), which began in 1992 as part of a global partnership agreement between the United States and Japan. At a recent seminar, the performance of the JOP since 1996 was characterized as "a working model for international research collaborations in competitive, high-technology areas."

The project's success, however, is not limited to merely fostering cooperation between two countries interested in furthering optoelectronic technology. The JOP also promotes the supply of prototype optoelectronic devices to speed the development of optics in computing applications. As a "go-between" of sorts, the JOP makes available wider access to prototype optoelectronic devices by system researchers and provides an expeditious funding mechanism to support the cost of new prototypes. Consequently, developers can reduce the time between a research idea and a commercial application.

According to Judson French, director emeritus of the electronics and electrical engineering laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the JOP was formed in response to Japan's desire for U.S. participation in a 10-year, $500-million program on advanced computing. The Japan program is now referred to as the Real World Computing Partnership (RWCP). Along the way, the United States proposed a way of cooperating in the RWCP, whereby both countries could contribute and benefit from their combined technological know-how. The idea of provisioning advanced experimental devices from either country to computer researchers and designers in either country was the basis for the JOP. It would enable researchers on both sides to develop and verify their advanced computer designs.

"A mechanism was set up for that, called the broker system," says French. "It consists of a broker in each country to perform a number of functions. Simply put, the broker's purpose is to make known the sources of advanced optoelectronic devices and determine the willingness of developers to make them available. It then looks for potential users of those devices and provides the mechanism for bringing the two together and arranging for the devices to be transferred to the users."

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), a part of the RWCP, funds the brokers in both countries. The U.S. broker function is fulfilled by a team headed by the Optoelectronic Industry Development Association (OIDA), with representatives from NIST, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Departments of Energy and State, and the National Science Foundation. The Japanese broker is the Optoelectronic Industry and Technology Development Association (OITDA).

"The JOP has turned out to be a very unique activity and a very successful one," says French. "First, it's considered a model for U.S.-Japan cooperative research-in particular, exploring new ways of cooperating in a high-tech competitive field. It was run on a trial basis for three years and evaluated against some formal criteria established as evidence of its success. It passed the trials and our recent symposium of users provided a lot of very positive feedback through many successful applications."

The JOP offers a catalog of specific devices or assemblies that are still in the research and development stage and not commercially available. Developers of the devices are willing to make them available and will sometimes make modest modifications if necessary. Functional descriptions of the devices are included in the catalog, and the information is made available to users in the United States and Japan.

The brokers provide assistance in import and export activities to ease the country-to-country transfers. The only cost involved for the devices is the incremental cost of making the device-minus the overhead charges for R&D or facilities. This arrangement makes the cost to users relatively modest.

"Most of the users have been universities, while most suppliers are within the industry itself, although there are exceptions," says French. "It's as though the JOP is providing a virtual laboratory. For instance, if a researcher at a university is working on a computer design concept and wants to verify his design, he needs a device that will perform the way his theoretical computer operates. He doesn't have the device he requires, nor does he have the laboratory facility in which to develop it. So he's at a loss, with no way to prove his idea is right and will work.

"Now he has the option of going to the JOP in hopes they know somebody in the United States or Japan who makes the device that does just what he needs it to do. The JOP may be able to provide the device from an R&D laboratory, enabling the researcher to incorporate the device into his own and advance his research or design."

At press time, more than 80 transactions were completed during the last three years, with costs ranging from $8000 to $51,000. The University of Colorado was developing new interconnect devices and, at the time, the only source of the 980-nm vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) needed for the research to continue was Japan's NEC Corp. The VCSELs were obtained through the JOP, allowing the university to carry its research to another level. Stanford University secured a superstructure grating tunable laser and a 32x32 waveguide filter for a testbed to optimize the scalability of computer network architectures. Neither item was available in the United States at the time.

According to NIST, users in universities, government agencies, and throughout the industry have successfully attained results from the JOP. These users have stated that without JOP-brokered, state-of-the-art devices, many R&D experiments would have been impossible.

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